Monday 9 July 2018
I have always been interested in collecting stones whenever I walk on the beach. I like the varied colours, textures and sizes, and the smooth feel caused by the action of the waves and the constant rubbing of the other stones.
Recently, I acquired a stone polisher to polish my beach pebbles to a really high gloss finish, and I wondered whether it would be possible to replicate their shapes and textures in wood. Different woods can have as many patterns in them as beach stones, and I decided to make two different sorts of 'stones' which could be used as paper weights, or to decorate plant pots. Their shape and finish make them very tactile, and everyone just rubs them between their hands as if they were worry beads.
I looked for square blanks or branches in different colours and patterns in order to try several finishes and decorations, and as I like inlaying pieces, I also decided to inlay or carve leaves on the top of one of the stones.
The first piece of wood I used was elm (Ulmus Americana) burr which had wonderful markings, and having turned it into a rough door knob shape with a flat top, I sanded it up to 240 grit, then used a ball sander to shape the indentations that would have come naturally from the constant action of the sea. On this 'stone' I decided to inlay a leaf pattern over the top and used crushed malachite and crystal, with the stem in brass. The stone inlay was sanded with a new diamond abrasive disc and finished with sandpaper up to 800 grit. After parting off, I rounded the shape on a disc sander. Now it needed a lot of hand sanding to mimic the finish from my stone polisher, and I finished off with several coats of oil.
Elm burr 'stone'
The first piece of wood I used was elm burr, which had wonderful markings. Mount the piece on the chuck and roughly turn it into a door knob shape with a flat top. Next, sand it up to 240 grit and use a ball sander to shape the indentations that would have come naturally from the constant action of the sea. Then smooth the surface of the 'stone' with a Dremel sander
On this 'stone' I decided to inlay a leaf pattern over the top. You will need to carve this pattern using a Powercrafter. I decided to use crushed malachite and crystal for inlaying into the leaf detail, and brass for the stem. After crushing the stones with a metal rod and sieving them, fill the holes with the fine powder and set them with Cyanoacrylate glue
After inlaying the 'stone' it requires sanding with a new diamond abrasive disc and finishing with sandpaper up to 800 grit. The 'stone' now needs to be parted off using a 6mm (1/4in) parting tool. After parting off, round the base of the 'stone' shape on a disc sander. It now needs a lot of hand sanding to mimic the finish from the stone polisher, and then it can be finished off with several coats of Osmo hard wax oil
Here is the finished elm burr 'stone' complete with inlaid malachite
This stone is made from an ash (Fraxinus excelsior) branch, which I wanted to look like a piece of white coral draped in leaves. Shape this piece in the same way as the elm burr 'stone'. Next, part off, shape and sand the base. Carve deep grooves with the Powercrafter in reed shapes around the outside, then sand the grooves with a 12mm (1/2in) Dremel sleeve sander to round off the carved edges. When you are happy with the shape, use some leaves from the garden to give you the design. Draw around them with a pencil onto the surface of the wood
The next step is to outline the leaf shapes with a thin cutting burr on the Presto Handpiece. Although I prefer to use the fresh leaves directly onto the wood, you could make a template with some soft plastic and use this
As you want the leaves to stand out against the white ash, rub black patinating wax onto the leaves, then rub it off after a few minutes with finishing oil to leave a greyish colour. You could use a coloured wax instead, or even a gilt cream – it does not matter that some of the background is also stained – as it will be carved away. Use a fine cutting burr on the Powercrafter to carve away the surface of the wood surrounding the leaves. Undercut the leaves to make them stand out from the background and texture the remaining surface
Create the veins and the outline of the leaves using the Presto Handpiece, darken the edges of the leaves with grey water-based paint and add more texture to the surface of the leaves with the Powercrafter
Finally, to make the coral effect, stipple all the white surface of the wood. Lemon oil is used to finish the 'stone', as this oil has the least effect on the natural colour of the wood
Here is the finished 'stone' made from ash, complete with stippled surface